Secretive wireless charging startup uBeam has been in the public eye a lot lately--and not in a good way. The Los Angeles-based company, which says it's creating technology that can charge devices wirelessly, was recently called out by a former executive as being bogus. Paul Reynolds, who was the company's VP of engineering from 2013 until this past October, accused uBeam--which has more than $25 million in investor funding--of exaggerating its progress and overselling how close the technology is to feasibility.
Yet uBeam's advances have clearly caught someone else's eye--Apple's. According to The Verge, the tech giant has poached two uBeam engineers in the last three months. And the hires weren't isolated: Apple has hired more than a dozen experts with backgrounds in wireless charging in the last two years.
This is the latest twist in the strange history of uBeam, which was founded by University of Pennsylvania student Meredith Perry in 2011. The company has employed more than 30 experts in physics and engineering and received funding from an impressive list of investors including Mark Cuban, Marissa Mayer, and Marc Andreessen. Yet those investors haven't seen its full charging capabilities--and the public hasn't seen anything at all. Founder Meredith Perry claims that the company is close to a public revealing, and last month a company spokesperson told Inc. that demonstrations could be expected by the end of this year.
Whether uBeam's technology is plausible remains to be seen. But Apple's interest in the startup's employees might suggest the startup is onto something--but perhaps it's going about it the wrong way. UBeam has promised the ability to charge devices throughout a room from a distance, and some have argued that's not possible--nor even safe to attempt. It's not known what Apple's hires will work on, but it's possible the company has a different approach: Bloomberg reported in January that Apple wants to have wireless charging technology in the iPhone 7, and that it previously filed a patent for a charging hub using a process called near-field magnetic resonance. This is a different approach than uBeam, which is attempting to convert ultrasound waves into energy.
UBeam's reputation has been in flux over the past several months: From a company led by an innovative entrepreneur with what Cuban called a "zillion-dollar idea," to the target of a former employee's damning accusations, to now being the David to Apple's Goliath.
To be sure, uBeam and Apple aren't the only companies trying to create viable wireless charging options. Washington State-based Ossia demonstrated its technology, which transmits energy using radio frequencies, at this year's CES, and The Verge reports that Energous is developing similar technology. The race is officially on between a Silicon Valley behemoth and a bunch of upstarts to see who can make wireless charging a safe, scientifically sound reality first.